Dispatches from Riis Park
I was only two years old when my father would take me to his rugby club games by the shores of Far Rockaway. Tucked alongside the coastal dunescape, atop the knolls spawned off of thickets of heath and beach plum, were the battlefields paved with white painted lines upon the grass blades. It was a battlefield he and his men fought on every other summer Saturday.
Beer-bellied weekend warriors donning navy blue jerseys, short shorts, matching argyle knee-high socks, steel-hoofed cleats, drool-smothered mouth guards, duct-taped ear muffs and a shit-load of booze-fueled fearlessness.
I was a toddler, but one doesn’t forget gore like this. There weren’t enough games of hide and seek, nor freeze tag to distract the imagery. Surprisingly, these men were old, but they were tough bastards, as laughter would soon follow the bloodshed. Curiosity always peaked, as my inquiring mind would often ask why a group of men could bombard and batter each other one moment, and could be linked together in neighborhood bars the next.
At first, and for years following, I would be really proud of my dad, and grew to became a huge fan of rugby. I would tell my father how badass it was that he did this for so long, often with an excitable look of pride washed over my face. He often would reply,
“Thanks son, but it’s really nothing to take pride in.”
I didn’t understand his reply to be honest, he would often watch rugby and football, like many red-blooded spectators, with screams and shouts, trying to echo grievances and praise through a 32 inch LCD Screen, hoping it reverberates through the eardrums of coaches and players.
Yet when it came to the topic of his own days, glory didn’t seem to be in the same breadth. I guess it was the pressure of sustaining +32 year old damage and the stories of broken bones and bloody noses being used as some outdated way to equate manhood. I still think to this day my father was uninterested about this part of his past. I don’t think it was because of an overwhelming amount of modesty as much as it was an overwhelming amount of regret. His knees still lock like busted door handles, he still feels his shins twinge after a run or bike ride, he still hears the bone crack in is hip.
I used to think, but now I know it was a lack of pride in the sport that broke him. I know of these ghosts, the ghosts of toxic masculinity, hovering over every sporting event, the blind animal cavalcade that follows men like him through every reluctant shadow.
I know my dad was trying to warn me about how machismo was a language spoken in false tongue, how much of a home can be disemboweled from its insides when one sees their father riving in pain at such a young age. My father claims “I was too young to remember,” but maybe he underestimates how hard it is to forget.
About the Author: J.B. Stone is the author of two digital chapbooks, A Place Between Expired Dreams And Renewed Nightmares (Ghost City Press 2018) and forthcoming, Fireflies & Hand Grenades (Stasia Press 2019). His fiction, poetry, and reviews have appeared in BlazeVOX, Maudlin House, Glass, Occulum, Peach Mag, Breadcrumbs, and elsewhere. You can check out more of his work at jaredbenjaminstone.com.